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Two more Central Canal competitors unveiled: The Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations may ask the city and state for more public input

May 7, 2007

A 140- to 160-room boutique hotel straddling the Central Canal has been added to the mix of proposals to develop a nearly one-acre parcel the state owns but wants to lease out for development.

Four groups submitted plans by an April deadline, but details were not released until May 1. IBJ reported the specifics of two of the proposals April 16.

The newly released plans from Wichita, Kan.-based LodgeWorks LP are by far the most ambitious, calling for the state to throw in property on the west side of the canal.

Using the land that is now a thin stretch of lawn and a parking lot for the Indiana History Center, LodgeWorks proposes to build a hotel with three or four floors on both sides of the canal, with a connecting pedestrian bridge topped by one or two levels of additional rooms.

The group likened the idea to examples of combining a bridge and commercial space, including Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

"We came to an understanding that the Canal District had no focal point," the group wrote in its proposal. "It has a soul but no heart. There was no place to meet, see and be seen.

"LodgeWorks proposes to build a hotel over the Central Canal, thereby creating another striking symbol for the city of Indianapolis."

The company declined to comment on its proposal when contacted by IBJ.

But its plans show the hotel's main entrance, an upscale restaurant, public rest rooms and hotel parking on the west side of the canal. The project also would include elevators to give visitors access to the canal. The Indiana History Center parking lot would be a casualty.

On the east side of the waterway-the parcel the state is actually trying to develop-the group would build canal-level retail and hotel event space. The plans also include up to 4,000 square feet of meeting rooms.

State officials have said they want retail to be a part of all bids.

A proposal from a local partnership between apartment developer Barrett & Stokely Inc. and construction firm Shiel Sexton would locate 20,000 square feet of canal-level retail and office space beneath three floors of apartments.

That group did not return a phone call from IBJ, but plans show the apartment building would include about 50 units renting for $1,000 to $1,500 per month. Barrett & Stokely owns both the nearby Canal Square Apartments and downtown's Riley Towers apartments.

Other plans for the site also could involve hotel and residential development. Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins Properties is considering a project that would include either apartments or condos. Browning Investments Inc. and Dora Brothers Hospitality Corp. want to build a nine-story building housing a four-star hotel and a separate extended-stay hotel.

While two hotel pitches are in the mix, local consultant Mark Eble said the location could be a challenge if developers hope to attract visitors drawn by the pending Indiana Convention Center expansion.

"It's just a [bit] off the traditional downtown beaten path," said Eble, a hotel consultant and regional vice president for Philadelphia-based PKF Consulting Corp.

He said while hotel guests like a physically attractive site, they'll rarely pick it if it's less convenient than another option. And the canal parcel would be a stretch for conventioneers because there are so many options closer to the convention center.

"The location on the canal would easily be the farthest option away," he said.

The site's proximity to IUPUI and nearby medical companies might provide enough traffic to make a hotel work, he said, but an extended-stay option may be a better fit than a boutique hotel.

All four development groups will be sitting down with the Indiana Finance Authority by mid-May to flesh out the ideas, according to Indiana Public Finance Director Ryan C. Kitchell. Then the state would like them all to submit more-detailed plans.

"We want to move as quickly as possible, but make sure that all of the teams get an ample opportunity to compete," he said, adding that he is aiming to have a deal by the end of this year.

But some community activists want to make sure there's been enough public input on what should happen on this taxpayerowned plot.

The Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations decided May 2 to ask the city and state for records on what level of public participation went into planning for development on the canal.

"If there has already been ample opportunity for the public to be engaged, then they have fulfilled what we want," said organization President Cathy Burton.

But if not, the group could ask for public hearings to add additional voices to the mix.
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